djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
Back tonight from the annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival via the usual college alumni tour.  A very good year, all told; of the five shows we saw, I count one as superlative, three as excellent, and one as...let's say adequate.  The notes are below, cut-tagged to avoid taking up excess screen space.  Note that the clips you see following each title come from the end, not the beginning, of my play-by-play remarks.

Friday night: Merchant of Venice )  While others in our tour group had issues with particular aspects, most of them seemed to like this staging better than I did.

Saturday afternoon: She Loves Me )This one gets six stars out of five from me; it's that good.  OSF audiences have been getting much too generous with their standing ovations in recent years, but this staging deserved the one it got from us.

Saturday evening: Hamlet )  All in all, this may be the most accessible staging I've seen in years while retaining every bit of the play's depth and nuance, and if it doesn't quite reach all the way to "brilliant", it doesn't miss that level by much.

Sunday afternoon: Throne of Blood )If you're mostly a Shakespeare buff (as I am), this is a fascinating and highly effective novelty.  If you are any sort of Kurosawa buff (as it happens, I'm not), this is likely a rare and not-to-be-missed work of wonder.  Note that once this show finishes its run in Ashland, it's traveling to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in NYC for a week's run in November, as part of the Next Wave Festival [this link loads a short video featuring Ping Chong].

Sunday evening: Henry IV, Part I )  I count this the best Shakespeare we saw during the weekend, albeit very narrowly over Hamlet.
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
A quick rundown on the five plays I saw this past weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Macbeth (Angus Bowmer theater)
Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred shillings.  This was mystifyingly, stunningly off-key, and darned near un-listenable.  Watchable, yes -- listenable, no.  Someone apparently confused "loud" with "convincingly intense", such that (a) virtually every line was shouted to a degree that shut down most efforts at characterization, and (b) my parents, who regularlyuse the Festival's offered assisted-listening headsets, found themselves constantly adjusting the volume to avoid having their eardrums blasted during the really loud bits.  I have to blame the director for the wooden performances, as these actors have been far, far better in other shows (this year's Macbeth was last year's Othello, in a production that may have been the single best Shakespeare performance I've seen in 35 years, not excluding the Denzel Washington Julius Caesar on Broadway awhile back).  I'm astonished; the high school production of Macbeth I saw last fall shines by comparison -- which should be taken as a genuine compliment to the student cast, and a sharp wakeup call to the OSF production.

Paradise Lost (Bowmer)
Not the Milton story, but a play by Clifford Odets dating to 1935, about an extended family coping with the Depression in general and the collapse of the characters' various business endeavors in specific.  The Festival's extended selection process is such that the show must have been chosen about two years ago, and accidentally became much more timely as the production process advanced.  It's well acted and technically executed, but where a number of my fellow tour-goers found it compelling, I just couldn't get interested in the characters and have some issues with the script.

Don Quixote (Elizabethan stage)
I have not read the Cervantes novel (and curiously, couldn't find a copy in either the Tudor Guild or the local general bookstore), but this adaptation was amusing and cleverly executed, if a trifle rambling at times.  Then again, that's a criticism I've heard leveled at the original, and here the production is livened by liberal use of animal puppets, a vintage tricycle masquerading as a donkey, and much other amusing stage business.  (My father notes that Rocinante's front half was played by an Equity actor, whereas Rocinante's rear half apparently hasn't earned his Equity card yet.)  Light as air-popped popcorn, but good fun for all that.

Much Ado About Nothing (Elizabethan stage)
An excellent production, nominally costumed and set-designed as a mid-20th-century Tuscan garden piece but otherwise mostly traditional in language and execution, including uniformly excellent diction and line-delivery.  Highlights are a properly authoritative Dogberry and an amazing feat of stunt acting by Benedick during the Big Eavesdropping Sequence that must be seen to be believed (and is too cleverly sprung for me to spoil it here).  Suffice to say that if you land front row seats for this show, be prepared for the unexpected.

Equivocation (Bowmer)
Herewith the heads-up for Seattlefolk: after this world-premiere production finishes its Ashland run, it's coming to Seattle Rep for a month (Nov. 18 to Dec. 19).  Reserve your tickets as soon as the box office will allow it.  This play is dense, intense, occasionally brutally graphic, and an absolute must-see for Shakespeare buffs, British-history buffs, and theater buffs in general -- but should be nearly as compelling even for general audiences.  Anthony Heald as "Shag" (William Shakespeare) is wrangling with prime minister Robert Cecil  (Jonathan Haugen) over a propaganda piece Cecil wants written about the 1605 "Gunpowder Plot".  Four of the six-member ensemble (Haugen among them) triple and quadruple roles as plotters, members of the King's Men, King James himself, and various others; there's also a subplot involving Shag's relationship with daughter Judith, whose twin died at age 11.   Allusions to modern situations (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?) are clearly intended but never intrusive, and playwright Bill Cain weaves a relentlessly paced script.  Ashland audiences of late are much too quick to offer standing ovations, but this got the fastest standing ovation I've ever seen -- and deservedly so.  [One caveat: this is compelling drama, but its view of the Gunpowder Plot is not necessarily reliable history.  Then again, neither are Shakespeare's own history plays....]
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)

Most years, the annual Shakespeare Festival pilgrimage is a family event.  This time, however, I was on my own, and as a result I went exploring among the Ashland restaurant scene in search of new and interesting places to eat.  I found a couple, and as I have a foodie or two in the gallery, I figure I ought to indulge in a bit of additional reportage.

If food be the music of love, read on.... )

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
More contrasts awaited us for Sunday's shows.  The matinee was a fairly new adaptation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Read more... )

The evening's outdoor show, Two Gentlemen of Verona, began with an adventure in weather.  Read more... )
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)

The two shows we saw on Saturday were a study in contrasts.  As I observed to others in the tour group in one of the post-play discussion sessions, it felt rather like an illustration of basic physics principles relating to the conservation of energy.

The matinee was Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Read more... )



By contrast, the evening's Cyrano de Bergerac, on the outdoor stage,  Read more... )

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)

Back yesterday from the annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; as usual, Ashland was gorgeous, the plays were intriguing (if not always successful), and the company -- a group assembled by the Whitman College Alumni Association (see [livejournal.com profile] whitman_alumni) -- engaging.

Per usual, the group saw five plays in three days; this year's roster included Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Two Gentlemen of Verona, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a version of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and the recent David Edgar adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.   In order to avoid epic-length post(s), I'm going to divide up comments on the plays (and a couple of very good dinners at new/newer Ashland dining spots) into several rocks.

Friday evening's play was The Winter's Tale --Read more... )

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